Career Night From Nikola Vucevic Proves Orlando Magic Won Dwight Howard Trade

By Nicholas Crimarco
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2012 the story was about all of the All-Stars that switched teams. Los Angeles traded Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers and Philadephia traded Andre Iguodala to the Denver Nuggets. The Orlando Magic, who traded Howard to Los Angeles, began rebuilding instead of trying to acquire a superstar. The Magic received guard Arron Afflalo from Denver and center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia.

Vucevic, who was a 2011 lottery pick for Philadelphia, only started 15 games his rookie season and averaged 5.5 points and  4.8 rebounds in his 51 games for the 76ers. When he was traded to Orlando he became the starting center from day one and responded. In his second season he averaged 13.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field while starting all 77 games he played. Vucevic finished second in the NBA in rebounds, only trailing Howard and finished third in double-doubles with 46.

In the summer of 2013, every one of those major pieces switched teams in the offseason. Howard left Los Angeles and signed with the Houston Rockets which left the Lakers with nobody on their roster from the 12-player trade. Iguodala bolted from Denver to sign with the up-and-coming Golden State Warriors. Philadelphia was the big loser in this trade because they sent their franchise player Iguodala away in hopes of landing the second best center in the NBA in Bynum. Unfortunately for the 76ers, Bynum never played a game for them after he suffered another knee injury and ended up signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason.

When Howard was being shopped the names being tossed back to Orlando were Brook Lopez, Bynum and Joakim Noah. The Magic couldn’t work out a deal they wanted with any of those teams, so they rolled the dice on the ability of Vucevic to progress and it has paid off. On Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers he scored 31 points and grabbed 20 rebounds while being matched up against DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is one of the best shot blockers and defenders in all of the NBA, but Vucevic had no problems with him. He also held Jordan and backup center Byron Mullens to a combined 3-for-15 shooting and only nine points.

It’s only a week into the season, but when you look at the four teams involved in that trade, Denver and Los Angeles are both struggling with a combined record of 2-6. Philadelphia has surprised everyone by starting 3-0 but have lost two straight since. The Magic with their young core of players have also started 3-2 and won games against two NBA title contenders in the Brooklyn Nets and the Clippers. With a top heavy Eastern Conference, the Magic could find themselves in the hunt for the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

The Magic were put in an impossible situation when Howard stated he wanted out, and they were able to make the best of it. They acquired young talent and have cap space after this season to try and add a few pieces instead of having to deal with a 7-foot diva in Howard. Trading Howard may be the best move the Magic have ever made, and general manager Rob Hennigan deserves all the credit for seeing the big picture.

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